My first stop was the Chamber of Commerce where I picked up a complimentary city map. I really got absorbed in my new cartographic creation, as I usually did with charts of unfamiliar territories. One landmark particularly caught my eye – the Hotel Del Coronado. The moment the front elevation came in to view, the celluloid frames began flickering in my mind again. It was Joe E. Brown, the “lounge lizard”, coquetting with a not-so-curvaceous Jack Lemmon, masquerading as a woman bass-fiddler, in that hilarious spoof, “Some Like It Hot”. Just like John Wayne westerns (foisting Arizona as Texas), Hollywood again tried the intelligence of its audiences when it relocated the Del in Miami, Florida. Oh well, that was show biz. The fact was, many of the resort hotel’s elements — the arcaded balconies, wraparound verandas, and turreted towers–were compatible with both East and West seaside conditions. What a grand hotel it was! I thought of it as the “Broadmoor of the West Coast”. How many of the hoi polloi had strutted through that beautiful, wood-embellished lobby? Or danced the night away in the conical ballroom (capacity—1200) virtually suspended over the Pacific? Or feasted in the graceful dining room with its arched, sugar pine ceiling (33 feet in height and a span of 62 feet) which offered an unimpeded view of the ocean and the bay? I wondered to my mind’s content.
As I was driving back to the center city, I was noticing the consistency of the development and imagining how remote the Del Coronado must have been when it opened almost a hundred years ago. Undoubtedly the hotel and its idyllic surroundings were just what people needed for their escape from urbanity – a retreat to the wilderness. As I was cruising south on I-5, I noticed an electrified rail line running parallel to the roadway. “¿ Donde va este tren a?” “¿ Para el tren en Tijuana?” Of course, it was the Tijuana Trolley. Gee-mo-nee, seeing that seemingly disoriented streetcar clattering through the country-side recalled some fond old memories. In the late forties and early fifties, our family took numerous trips between Dallas and Waco on the old “Dallas Highway” — U.S.77. Thanks, in part, to the R.E.A. (Rural Electrification Authority, circa 1930), towns of all sizes in north central Texas had been spun together like a spider’s web with an intrinsic interurban trolley system.
With every curve of the two-lane road, I anticipated seeing the indisputable profile of the alien streetcar gliding over the Texas prairie. The trolleys conveniently stopped at every town, picking up families as they embarked on their journey to the “big city” – possibly to watch a Triple A Dallas Eagle baseball game (tantamount to being at a major league game), or to go on a shopping spree at the fashionable Neiman Marcus. Ah, those were the days.
My instincts told me to hook a left at Imperial Beach rather than proceeding on to the border. The “Toonerville Trolley” was the only ticket to Tijuana as far as I was concerned. Since I had not foreseen that means of transit, I wasn’t about to drive over to the Mexican side and risk having New Baleua seized and searched because of some counterfeited charges that I was carrying contraband “coke” out of their country. My interior design included incorporating every possible cubic inch of wall cavities and overhead compartments into usable storage space. Those unscrupulous gendarmes would have had a field day ripping through every crook and nanny in order to implicate me in “illicit intercountry drug-running”. Of course, it was all preposterous speculation on my part. Yeah, right.
Silver Strand Boulevard took me back north along a narrow sliver of a peninsula with a sweeping view of the Pacific on the left and the U.S. Naval Station, replete with an entourage of splendid warships, on my right. The only way to get back to the mainland was up and over the San Diego Bay by way of the Coronado Bridge. That little trip was one hair-raising, white-knuckled drive, I mean to tell ya’.
The four-lane, undivided roadway simultaneously arched and curved 90 degrees up to a vertiginous height. In order to savor the dramatic panorama of shipyards, mountains, and office towers, I barely maintained the minimum speed limit. Cars were stacking up behind me. I was wishing they’d give me a break. I figured they were commuters who routinely made the trip five times a week. As I was negotiating the leftward swinging arc in the outside (right) lane, I was suddenly overcome with the apprehension of being sucked out on a tangent hundreds of feet above the bay. Believe me, that was no exaggeration. I coasted down to terra firma where my knuckles retained their normal color. That’s what I could truly call breath-taking. I made my way up the winding road to Mount Soledad for one last unlimited vista of one beautiful city. I had been in two completely different metropolitan areas within 48 hours. I was headed north to L.A.
Although it had been 18 years since my last visit, cinema city had plenty of exposure through television and movies to have kept me well informed as to how the city had “progressed”. Progress?! That was a laugher. Progress to southern Californians was gauged on how many more lanes they could add onto the already freeway-choked, smog-infested concretescape. Coincidently, I ran pell-mell into the 5 o’-clock, misnomered rush-hour, traffic. Although I was headed in the direction of central Los Angeles, there was no such thing as “going against the grain” in that metromess.
With such a spate of satellite sub-cities spread over several thousand square miles, there must have been an astronomical number of commuters traversing the intertwined network of freeways in all directions. Then a curious thought came into my head: It must have been considered to be un-Californian if a person lived within walking distance of his or her place of work. Maybe, in order to be declared an “official native”, those crazy commuters had to show proof that they had logged their quota of freeway miles. I was tuned to a local AM station which was incessantly informing the beleaguered motorists of the next impending bottleneck….I was really “in the heartbeat of L.A.”